Niksen: The art of doing your best work by doing nothing at all

Doing something is not always the right choice.  Sometimes it is better to do nothing.  Nothing at all.  It’s a concept the Dutch call niksen.  It encourages people to deliberately take time every day — especially the busiest days — to sit motionless, gaze out a window at nothing in particular, whatever it takes to disengage your mind and body.

American workers, always with the go-go-go mentality, tend to view this approach with disdain.  It’s lazy.  It’s wasteful.  The only proper way to work is full throttle, full time.  On a related note, American workers suffer greatly from depression, stress, high blood pressure, and divorce.  A connection, perhaps?

As someone whose work is largely creative, I can personally vouch for the value of niksen.  There are days when I sit at my desk and crank out content hour after hour.  But those days are typically born out of desperation.  And the content created under such circumstances tends to suffer.  Perhaps it is different for other professions.  Then again, if an air traffic controller, for instance, said he could do with a little break now and then, I’d be hesitant to deny him.

There is no shame in allowing our minds and bodies to decompress from the rigors of life.  The sabbath law in the Old Testament compelled rest from physical toil for one day out of seven; it was emphasized by giving rest to animals as well, and even to the land in the form of sabbath years (Exodus 23:10-12).  And although the covenant has changed over the centuries, God hasn’t.  And neither has the basic nature of man.  All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy; it wears Jack out, keeping him from working to his full potential.

All that being said, the whole point of niksen is to improve the quality of our work.  Rest implies both work in the past and work in the future.  We recover because we are worn out, and because we know we will have to wear ourselves out again.  It’s not laziness; it’s maximizing our productivity.

Labor in the Lord is just that — labor.  Jesus tells us to work until circumstances demand that we stop (John 9:4).  The “Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9-11) is not available to us in this life; it waits for us in the next (Revelation 14:13).  There are moments in life when we are not actively pursuing the things of God.  Jesus Himself ran away from the work from time to time — but only to engage in the work in another place (Luke 4:42-43).  There are no moments — ever — when we are not putting His things first, seeking His will,  We are not always on duty.  But we are usually on duty — and always on call.

And taking a mental break is not the same as taking a break from being a Christian.  Feeling fatigued is not an opportunity to willingly indulge in sinful thoughts and actions.  If the only “work” we do in His service is fixing the problems we made, what good are we to Him?  We owe the work, and the Master, better than that.